Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My British cookery lesson debut!

Looking the professional chef as ever

Last month my Japanese teacher Yoko somehow roped me into agreeing to teach at one of her monthly cookery classes. Each month they cover a different nationality and she decided it was time for a British one. Cue lots of panic, sweat and gooogling "traditional British food" and before you think "fish and chips" don't, I'm not going to be blamed for reinforcing that stereotype!

I was lucky enough to be going home for Christmas so just thought I'd get a ton of practice in for my actual lesson scheduled for 24th Jan. I'd originally decided to make beef and ale pie, a proper British dish but after a failed attempt at home (the meat was so dry it was like chewing cardboard..) I decided on a more festive option; mince pies, brandy butter and mulled wine. OK not exactly great for January but it'd do.

So the day before I hopped on a flight back, my sis in law Hels, nieces and me squeezed in some last minute practice making mince pies for the first time using this really handy pre-rolled frozen pastry. They turned out really well although mine looked ready for the pig trough and Hels' looked liked Delias ; )

Anyway, back in Japan and I'm brimming with confidence. The day before my cookery lesson I set out with a shopping list as long as my arm. I found a lot ingredients with no hiccups but where are the cake tins? I went to every cookery department in Kanazawa slowly realising that the Japanese just don't use them! Ahh of course not because they don't bake. Why? Because they don't have ovens!

So my friend Ayako, bless her, ran around another part of town looking for anything that looked remotely like a cake tin taking pics of on her phone and sending them to me for checking. In the meantime, I was sending her pics on my phone of foods like sugar bags and flour for her to read the Kanji for me and check that I wasn't buying salt when I needed sugar. You see, things are twice the challenge sometimes in Japan!

I also discovered on my `rapidly turning stressful` shopping trip that the Japanese don't sell icing sugar, that raisins are considered a semi luxury item in Japan (a small fancy looking bag will cost ¥780, about £5) and the worst news of all, they don't sell that really handy pre-rolled frozen shortcrust pastry, agggggh.

Sunday came. I was soo worried. Having lugged a dead body weight of a rucksack full of ingredients to the cookery school, I hurriedly prepped everything up and it was time to start. About 15 people showed up, all women apart from Nori my helper at school, thank god it wasn't 40 like she had at Christmas.

Some of the cookery school gals

The lesson kicked off with Yoko telling everyone what we were about to make and I gave out my wonderfully prepared handouts with some history of eating mince pies & drinking mulled wine. Good start. Next though was pastry making. I can hand on heart say reveal that this was the first time I'd ever made pastry. I somehow managed to convince them I knew what I was doing as each group would ask me to check the consistency of their pastry was right and I authoritatively would tell them they needed more flour/water etc. Hahahahaha

Once the pastry was all in the fridge they were all asking what next at which point I'd check my step by step recipe guides hidden away on a side table.

Rock n Roll-preparing to roll my rock hard pastry... (note look of horror on ladies face)

I thought the worst was over but oh how I was so wrong! When the pastry was ready for rolling, Yoko thought it'd be best for everyone to watch a pastry rolling and cutting demonstration from me first. So in front of 15 keen and eager cooks huddled round a cooking station, I picked up the pastry (which was now rock hard, eeek?!) and tried to pretend I knew what I was doing. Well the minute I rolled it out it fell apart. It almost blew my cover but then behaved itself enough for me to cut out 2 round shapes for the top and bottom of the mince pie. Typical my luck, the pastry cutters were too small. What a pavala.

My class then went back to their stations and it was like police academy meets cookery school. Flour was everywhere, gooey dough sticking to the hands and then on the opposite scale dough that was falling apart at a touch. Somehow everyone managed to line their tins with pastry (although some poor buggers had to use muffin tins)

In comparison to the pastry, making the mincemeat was a dream. I think the Japanese ladies were a bit shocked at how much booze I poured into the mincemeat mixture, although I did note a few gleeful looks amongst them too.

I had used suet bought from the UK for the mincemeat (I'd at least had some sense that the Japanese wouldn't sell suet) but I hadn't anticipated them asking me on the spot what they could use as an alternative! Errrrrr....maybe cornflour I said?

The mincemeat worked out perfectly and I had a lot of "iee yo ne's" (smells good) and caught a few of them dishing out spoonfuls of the stuff to taste.

Next was the mulled wine, nothing too stressy here. They did find sticking the cloves into the orange halves quite fascinating and akin to poking a voodoo doll. I also made a non-alcoholic mulled wine with grape juice which didn't taste too bad (In Japan you can't even drink a sniff and drive)

I honestly didn't realise how tricky it is to line pastry tins. I cleverly decided against doing my own "show pies" during the lesson knowing they'd turn out like a dogs dinner. Awwww that wonderful fresh baing smell filling the kitchen and the mince pies were finally ready.

What do you think? OK they don't really look like mince pies but I didn't think we did too badly for a first attempt. Three and half hours later we were ready to sit and eat our freshly made pies and drink mulled wine.

Such a fab day full of laughs. I think everyone enjoyed themselves by the looks on their faces!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jessica!
    We met at the 80's dance party last night - I'm the gal who's been stalking your blog :) I couldn't find anywhere to send you a private message, so a public comment it is. We should hang out before you go! You can send me a message at